Would you believe me if I told you that I rarely listen to music?
It’s shocking, but true. By my guestimates, I listen to at least 50% less music than the average music fan. It’s not that I don’t love music – it’s my number one passion! But I do tend to listen to music in a very intentional way. Unlike many music lovers, I don’t feel like I have to listen to music while I’m doing not–so-exciting tasks like driving, working out, or washing the dishes. More often than not, I choose silence.
My partiality to silence is largely a result of my personality. I’m extremely introverted and easily bothered by too many sensory inputs. I don’t like noise or loud sounds (I hated fireworks as a child), and I need a lot of solitude and silence to feel peaceful.
But it turns out, silence is also my number one secret to writing original songs.
Think about it – after you listen to music, don’t you usually get a song stuck in your head? I know I do. And if you try to write with someone else’s music looping through your thoughts, you’ll probably write something derivative and uncreative. When I do it, I often can’t come up with a new melody at all.
Of course, listening to other people’s music is vital for getting inspiration and discovering new techniques and genres. If I hadn’t spent my first two years of college obsessively listening to Elliott Smith and Rasputina, I might still be writing pop punk songs and playing nothing but power chords on my Fender Stratocaster.
But during the times I’m listening to a lot of music, I’m almost always writing way fewer songs. It’s only after I turn off the music, sit quietly, and let what I’ve heard mingle with my own ideas that I’m able to create something new.
If you’re a songwriter struggling with writer’s block, silence may be just what you need. Here are three ways to make it work for you:
1. Try leaving your iPod at home as you go about your day. Maybe you’ll overhear a conversation full of witty remarks you can use in your lyrics. Or perhaps you’ll hear a sexy bird call that inspires a unorthodox instrumental solo (I sincerely hope this happens to someone).
2. Try turning off the radio in the car. After a few miles, you’ll probably get bored. You’ll start thinking about song topics, come up with a few killer lines for lyrics, or hum a brand new tune. Before you know it, you’ll have the beginnings of a new song. That’s what happened to me with “October Iced Over” – I wrote the first two verses while driving down I-80 in Iowa.
3. Make sure you don’t listen to music right before you sit down to songwrite. That way, you’ll start writing with a clear head, unencumbered by other people’s melodies and words. I give myself at least an hour of silence, but you may need more or less time – experiment and find out what works for you.
And if you’re not a songwriter, but you know one who would love this post, don’t hesitate to share it with them!by